March 15, 2011

Dear saints,
Lent is a mixed bag of culture-counterculture in pursuit of holiness. It is an opportunity to look in our spiritual mirror because it helps us see if the image we reflect really radiates, ever so gently, the goodness of God. Lent is like looking into the eyes of another person and seeing a vague reflection of your very self in their eyes while allowing them to see a vague reflection of themselves in yours. Most of Scripture would reflect to us how we really are on the inside while pointing to how we ought to be. It is somewhat like the difference between what we budgeted and what we actually spent; it is tax season, isn’t it! Our relational interactions also reflect how we are on the inside. Our tradition provides us the medium of prayer to reflect in word, music and silences. We have many internal and external mirrors inviting us to a maturation process.

Most of us sigh and breathe-in the ambiguities that surround our sense of self, observing the parts in us that struggle to be holy and other parts that aspire and often live into the holiness that God calls us to. We call these struggling parts sin, and that helps in itself. By not making that which is sinful normal or good, we make an important distinction internally. Our awareness moves us from wallowing in that which alienates us from God, creation, or one another to wrestling with such realities. It is not unlike living with the ambiguities around good and evil, or greed and generosity. We live with both, often intertwined. While we cannot always untangle them, we have the capacity to clarify that one is not the other. These various internal and external mirrors are helpful to us in that they draw us to a dependence on God like no other. They often help us understand that it is truly by grace alone that we are children of God. In such places of humble affirmation we have the capacity to rise from hypocrisy to generous hospitality.

We encounter domestic and global disasters with a sense of the fragility of life in these places of humility. We recognize that we never were quite in control, but that the semblance of control did feel good when we had it. We offer restful prayers for those who perished in the recent earthquake-Tsunami-nuclear combination and remember those living in the normalcy of triggers of terror. Nevertheless, could these reminders of the fragility of our human existence point us to places of holiness expressed in greater compassion, kindness, and hope in every day?

In Western New York, we struggle with hope since we easily move to a place of normalized defeatism that overshadows our culture. Every silent and loud disaster seems to add yet another notch to our tree of despair to confirm that things will not get better, that the shoe will drop, and that things could not but get worse. So, could Lent help? Lent could only be helpful if the source of our reflection is life-giving. Mere reflection on this larger depressed culture could only drive us to greater melancholy, or avoidance through various anesthetics, in my opinion. The weather is but an external expression of a deeper tendency in our collective human psyche to ratify hopelessness. What we have as a clear counterculture is Lenten journey to the Joy of Easter. We have this insatiably joyful hope of resurrection in Christ Jesus who invites us to live beyond our domestic or global, silent or loud disasters. Lent can be holy when we refuse to become the very thing we are fighting against. Therefore, a Holy Lent is a countercultural choice. Let us strive collectively to become an embodiment of Easter as we seek a Holy Lent.

Joy,
Bishop Prince

Dear saints,

 

How do I see things as I sit with my family on this surprise snow day on February 2, 2011—also the third anniversary of my election as your bishop?  I continue to see a call to this office with all the joys and challenges of leading our beloved Church with faithful saints at a time like this.  My hair has grayed some, I have grown in my prayer life, made some tough decisions, become a little more pensive, and continue to be cautiously optimistic about our future as a Church.  Images of uprising in Egypt are streaming on TV as I reflect.  Our world seems to push and pull at the seams of its varied domestic identities seeking a new and more wholesome normal.  I see a diocese that is resilient, faithful and in various stages of willingness to discern and re-develop a new normal for the 21st century.  Over the past two years, I have had the privilege of feeling the exuberance of possibilities in almost every congregational context.  As a diocese, we are intentionally trying to do the necessary groundwork to faithfully live into making God’s mission our mission of transformation customized relevantly to every unique context.  This groundwork would include a combination of helping form/bring new leaders and reorient seasoned leaders, and empowering all the Baptized while creating strategies that are eclectic and nimble as they are measurable and engaging.

 

With clarity in pursuing a passionate spirituality that is tempered by radical hospitality and thoughtful engagement, we have a way to foster greater progress in our efforts to share our joy, re-develop congregations and communicate our vision, mission and transformation with each other and more importantly with a curious and changing world.  Our diocese has really good people with many gifts of faith.  It is true that every congregation in its location has something unique to offer those who call it their spiritual home.  Every congregation has its own set of challenges especially as it relates to being vibrant in this changing world.  We have been engaging every congregation about the need for greater accountability within and collaboration with one another, and within the districts, while building a team to serve you effectively from D-House.

 

After two and a half years, I am a lot more optimistic about having the diocesan staff who can deliver the kind of help needed to actualize and sustain the emerging possibilities in our congregational contexts in the 21st century.  Transitions do take a little time with new players coming onboard to manage an interface between older systems while embracing technological modes of doing things more efficiently.  We are not quite there yet, but we are certainly moving quickly in that direction.  I acknowledge that getting our communication building blocks has taken longer than we expected in our transition from the wrap around newspaper “Living Water,” but we are poised to have these in place, up and running much more smoothly in the coming months.  “Tidings,” our new diocesan news magazine is here, and should be in your hands and screens next week!  I have invited Canon Peter Peters to continue serving in his current capacity for another year, and he has graciously agreed.  I am about to make the call to our next Chief Financial Missioner for the Diocese.

 

There are two things happening or should be happening in all our congregational contexts.  The first is the care, nurture, challenge and formation of those faithful members who make up our current congregations.  This group of the faithful is crucial to the future of our Church in that they are called to be the encouragers and cheer leaders of what is emerging.  The second is a clear focus on sharing the joy of Christ with those who do not yet consider themselves members of our congregations.  This invitation is happening in pockets where some leaders in our existing congregations are intentionally seeking ways to make our worship, our teaching, our fellowship, our part in God’s mission, our fun-raising and fund-raising events more and more relevant to our communities around us, with greater attention to follow up!  They are adding new liturgies to reach new seekers and making disciples for Christ.   I find that this is having the best results in contexts where there is little or no internal conflict, little or no secret-keeping, less of a survival mentality, and more of a single minded joyful way to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ leading to intentional formation of those who will follow Christ for the rest of their lives!

 

In some instances, however, I find that the existing faithful band of members is not able to midwife what is emerging because they are too tired, but they are offering prayers for what will be.  Healthy clergy and healthy lay leadership are an important common factor, too.  When I say healthy, I am thinking of leaders who are able to self-differentiate between their personal, familial, and congregational stuff and lead with their eyes on empowering both the good old faithful and the newer faithful.

 

Another important factor is size and financial resources of congregations.  In ascending order from small to large, our Diocese has: twenty-seven type-1, thirteen type-2, five type-3, and two each of type-4, 5, and 6 congregations.  The second redevelopment activity has greater potential to succeed when there is a baseline of critical mass of the faithful and other resources.  This obviously leaves smaller congregations in a place of extreme vulnerability.  Companion relations between larger and smaller congregations could infuse new ways to grow mutually as a diocese.

 

We are getting clearer about our way forward with some of our smaller congregations where the numbers have been steadily declining over the decades.  In a few of these contexts, lay and clergy leaders have taken a hard look and have decided not to fund the sustenance of worship and ministry at full-time or even their nearest memory of part-time clergy anymore.  Two of these congregations that we are in conversation with currently have members who right now are in stages of discernment of finding new spiritual homes in other Episcopal Churches in their vicinity.  My office and district Deans are working within these contexts in real ways to support these faithful saints as they move to their new homes of worship and continue their life in God.  Wherever this is happening, the beauty is that we now have a way to discern and bring in new leadership with passion and skill to startup new ministries that are creatively missional as well as open to bringing in new followers of Christ.  A wonderful way to honor and direct the blessing of those good old faithful members who have dreamed dreams is to allow a new set of leaders to midwife their dreams and realize their dreams and prayers.  Through the messiness of changes and transitions around us, we are invited to take some heart in the fact that we are coworkers in God’s mission articulated in Isaiah’s vision, “See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

 

Three years ago, on this day, I promised to roll up my sleeves and get to work.  Well here we are, toiling hard, praying fervently, laughing and dancing with the new and the old, the joyful and the depressed, weak and strong, healthy and sick, but working away toward God’s fresh, new, vibrant, and emerging future.  Let us not be afraid.  Let us hang tight like our forebears in faith, the unseen cloud of witnesses.  Like Mary and Joseph who presented Jesus at the temple let us with renewed wisdom present the teachings of Jesus in our Churches and intentionally take the gospel message outside our red doors.

 

Your fellow servant in Christ,

Prince

 

Good evening saints!  Good evening sinners!  Glad we are all here!

We are grateful to gather at this the 79th convention of the Diocese of Rochester.  Next year will be our 80th!  We gather to celebrate our bonds of affection with one another.  We also celebrate the ministry and mission that God has enabled us to engage as a living, breathing body of Christ in this part of God’s vineyard in western New York.  We gather as a diocese that is intentionally beginning to get out of cruise control and recalibrate so as to proactively connect with people who live in our changing world.  Business as usual has not been working, and painful as it is, we are being called to become much more nimble in the ways we navigate these cultural waters.  We live in times when civic religion is not the norm and individuals are choosing their communities of faith and transformation.  We gather at our convention 225 years after the first convention of the Episcopal Church convened on September 27, when our spiritual forebears met in Philadelphia in 1785.[1]

We are still here, and I ask myself “how come?”  The simple answer is because we, as the Episcopal Church have consistently and thoughtfully recalibrated.  We have done so in the ways we understand and communicate the timeless message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to ourselves and to the changing worlds around us.  We stand in the continuum of those who often successfully offered a life-giving narrative of hope and faith in the midst of many loud and competing narratives of fear.  The clearest way to track our process of recalibration is benchmarked in the changes experienced by our prayer book, which has had several revisions over the years.  It has been an iterative process at best where, as Church, we have changed due to reasoned interaction with the grace of Holy Spirit along the way.  In recent years, we have especially led in the inclusion of all people to claim their baptismal birthright and offer their leadership.  We are becoming inclusive despite our traditional exclusions.  Look at me.  I am not your traditional bishop!  Visible and invisible changes mark a complicated propensity within our spiritual DNA to appropriate the gifts of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every changing environment.

Through all these changes, however, we have consistently claimed our identity as followers of the risen Christ keeping JOY at the center of the various iterations of our transformation.  Our diocesan birth narrative reminds us of our origins out of the throes of the Great Depression.  We have always gathered with a celebrant to worship around the sacrament of the Eucharist as a celebration, as a way to keep our eyes focused on gratitude and not scarcity because of who God is to us.  Celebration is central to our worship and identity.  Even at the grave our song is Alleluia! Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Prem Rewat tells the story of a monk who is busy copying scripture and goes to the head monk because he is dissatisfied copying from a copy.  He asks for the original.  The head monk thinks the request is fair and decides to pour through the original document all night long to make sure it is indeed true to the copy.  He breaks the silence of the night with a frustrated scream followed by great sobs of disappointment.  All the monks wake up because of the commotion to find the head monk screaming, “The word is CELEBRATE!  There’s an R in it!”

Two years after my consecration as your bishop, after a disciplined process of individual and communal listening, I am pleased to articulate to you that our diocesan goal for the foreseeable future is to grow the diocese using the methodologies of evangelism, mission communication, and congregational redevelopment.  These are priorities that Diocesan Council has adopted and I have started formulating a roadmap for us to get there in the next few years.  I have created a working document that I am calling a green document.  I will send each of you a copy of this green document after convention.  I invite you to help determine how we might synchronize and synergize with our emerging diocesan vision.  I am interested in plans that result in fruit bearing and incorporate deadlines.

We are beginning to see signs of hope all around us.  We now have eight new clergy coming into the Diocese.  Ascension, Trinity Greece, St. Mark’s and St. John’s, Trinity Geneva, and St. Mathias’, are doing some heavy lifting, truth-telling and developing ministry plans.  Steuben, Livingston and Allegany county ministries have joined missional forces prayerfully to experiment with the Southern Tier Episcopal Ministry.  We have had a rural mission surge with the inauguration of Zion House, a home for women veterans in Avon, the harvesting of 74,000 potatoes to help with radical hospitality in the Southern Tier, and the establishment of a Migrant Education Center in Lyons.  The newly named Oasis Rochester promises to help us believe out loud.  Discernment and ministry around education in the city is ongoing, prison ministry continues, and seeds are being planted for an Episcopal Service Center in the city.  Informed and organic conversation has begun around the planting of new congregations in our Diocese.

We are grateful for the investment of those who have gone before us that has enabled us to stay the course during these tough economic times.  We were able to offer a mini-jubilee with forgiveness of debt to thirty congregations to the tune of over $450K.  Youth ministry and communications have new leadership.  We have new tools for evangelism, mission and ministry.  Our clergy are growing in their regular support of one another in their ministry through fellowship, study of scripture, and prayers.  SPICE, our group for clergy spouses and partners, has empowered strengthening their bonds of affection.  Our retired clergy continue to be an asset to our collective wisdom.  Antiracism training (should we call this eracism?) and safe church training are part of the norm and the regular rhythm.  Our part in the leadership of interfaith cooperation in the community is noteworthy.  We have seminarians in different stages of formation, many of whom are engaged in course offerings out of our relationship with Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School and General Theological Seminary.  We have initiated exercises of discernment around our identity to be intentionally visible as a community of faith and transformation.  Our Deans, Diocesan Council, Vestries and other bodies are taking a more engaged role in leadership.  We have commissioned missioners to grow our Global Companionship, and the Ephphatha ministry of the Deaf.  We blessed the Church by sending another bishop, this time to Alaska!  We have lay leaders, clergy, canons and your bishop serving on boards, committees, and standing commissions in our community as well as in the larger Church for the common good.  There is enough evidence to remind us that we are the ones we have been waiting for!

I truly believe we are building on foundations we have inherited from the efforts of former leaders.  As a priority, we have started seeing greater collaboration in the way we work together as a Diocese.  This includes seeking partners beyond our diocesan structure.   Staff changes in order to realign gifts with our emerging vision are only a part of this priority.  We are striving to become more and more a diocese that supports and empowers all the saints of God in practical ways to live into their true identity as God’s beloved!  We are not there yet, and may always be striving to get there, but we have committed ourselves to go in this direction.  Our Diocesan budget has already been pointing in this direction, where a majority of our resources support mission and ministry in our congregations, communities, and the larger Church, and the rest of the budget provides the necessary structure and leadership to help us grow and form disciples.

I am learning everyday to live and grow into the call to become a faithful bishop.  I have received much help from those around me.  I am deeply grateful to God for Roja, who has been an amazing companion and confidant in this odyssey.  Ned and Eklan have been great and we are truly proud of them for their evolving lives and spirits.  I am grateful for the gentle embrace that we received through cards and your prayers when our family was reeling under the tragic loss of my cousin and his family last year.  We are grateful for the radical hospitality we have received from several friends who are not Episcopalian.

I continue to marvel at this gift of being your bishop at such a time as this.  I especially am fond of the Sunday visitations.  I see many signs of transformation around the Diocese in small and large pockets.  I have an experienced Bishop for a peer coach, a no-nonsense advisory team, and the Standing Committee who walk with me as I prayerfully lead our diocese through these challenging times.  I am grateful to all past and current staff at Diocesan House for their valued help to me during my initial arrival and over the two years of transition into the office of bishop.  I appreciate your trust and patience as we discern where we are going as a Church and as I build our diocesan leadership team to help us get there.

Julie Cicora is living into her call to be our Canon for mission and ministry.  Her first priority has been to successfully bring in new clergy leaders with vision and energy to our diocese.  Julie brings her prayerful discernment to all things with a “can do” attitude, positive energy and wisdom along with many other significant gifts.  I am so grateful to her and the saints of St. Peter’s for this partnership in Diocesan ministry.  She has been a big reason behind our missional accomplishments over the last year.  Peter Peters has graciously stepped in as the Interim Canon for vocational discernment.  We are beginning to intentionally put together a template walking alongside Commission on Ministry to engage all the baptized in the joy and call of ministry.  Deborah Brown is passionately growing into her role as the Presiding Youth Missioner for the diocese and her first priorities have been to enroll district youth missioners to create and implement the vision.  She is surrounded by a host of saints who form a supportive advisory group.  Jim Ernst is getting a dose of Episcopal culture while getting his feet on the ground as the new communications facilitator.  He also is surrounding himself with a communications resource committee.  Denise Yarbrough and Al Keeney are taking on different roles as leaders in church and society.  Deven Hubert is our new Chaplain to retired Clergy and their families.  The rest of our gifted Diocesan staff, Carolyn McConnell, Twila Anderson, Marie Fessler, Kristy Estey, Eileen O’Connor Casey, Catherine Shoemaker, David Sisson, and Jane Reynolds continue to work with spirited enthusiasm and commitment to support us.  We are grateful for the gifts of leadership this Diocese enjoys from the many saints who volunteer their time and talent with enormous generosity.  Thank you!

Tomorrow, we will have an opportunity to celebrate and give thanks for the ministry of Karen Noble Hanson, who has served as Canon for Finance and more in this Diocese.  At the end of this year, Karen will transition out of daily operations into her part-time role of monitoring our investments while pursuing the song in her heart.  I would like to take the opportunity tonight to lift her up as a lay person who has exemplified what it means to take ones baptismal vows seriously.  Even before Karen came to work in the Diocese of Rochester as its Chief Financial Officer, she was living into her baptismal call to be an agent of transformation working in the not for profit sector with farm workers and later in President Carter’s administration with rural communities.  Karen has been a trail blazer in many ways, but especially as a lay leader in this Church.  We are enormously grateful for her diligent ministry among us.  “Karen, you have helped us remember that we are the ones we have been waiting for.  Thank you!”

Tonight, we heard the district Deans articulate some of the ways we are already witnesses to what God is doing in our midst.  We are blessed to celebrate senior saints who exemplify discipleship among us.  At our liturgy tomorrow, we will celebrate a few young leaders who are signs of hope in our journey of discipleship.  Tomorrow, we will also watch a video on mission spurred by our saints impacting our local and global neighbors.  It is important for us to remember that we already experience and radiate the transforming work of God in us as individuals and as Church.  It would become increasingly significant for us to remind ourselves of these amazing things happening in our midst to spur us on to accomplish even greater goals for the glory of God!

In order to continue this good work, we must not get sucked into narratives of anxiety during these challenging times.  Narratives spurred by anxiety usually lead to justified anger based on half truths, but with very little contextual analysis of history.  Such narratives almost always seek and find scapegoats to assign blame.  When we move away from the Gospel as a narrative of hope, we end up creating our own whirlpool that has us going in circles creating more anxiety and eventually apathy.  We need to be careful as leaders not to succumb to these narratives through help from good friends, good therapists, through prayer and being in sync with Jesus’ narrative of hope.  We need to continue engaging and proclaiming this Gospel as a narrative of hope in word and deed.

Where do we stand when we proclaim or cry out?  We stand and proclaim where Jesus stood.  At the margins, in the border, and at the place of un-belonging!  As a new immigrant I find this place of un-belonging quite fertile and meaningful for leadership.  Every one of us can find ourselves such spiritually liminal spaces to reflect and lead from.  A leadership model that seeks balance is relevant to us in an increasingly cross-culturally sensitive and multi-identity embracing 21st century world.  Empowering the “other” both as a sacramental (Baptism) and as a missional (community of resurrection) imperative is important to frame leadership in Church and Society.  Let me focus on one aspect of leadership and discipleship.

At the last summer Olympics the US track relay teams, both men and women, seemed to be plagued by a simple but serious problem, dropping the baton.  Obviously, letting go at the right time is not easy and requires a great deal of practice.  Transitions are always difficult.  As I watched this in slow motion several times, I remember wondering if it was perhaps a metaphor for our cultural proclivity for individual celebrity that could contribute to us forgetting how to function as an interdependent body, caring for the good of the whole.

Our seasonal Lent is countercultural because it reminds us that we can be intentional about letting go.  Why do we let go?  We let go so that we can empower others to run with the baton.  Practicing some form of symbolic or actual “letting go” is a good way to prepare for our ultimate journey into God’s full embrace when we literally reach the last frontier to let go of all things temporal.  Lent may well be a practice run for our eternal journey into God.

Another way to look at this practice of Lenten “letting go” is as a metaphor for an important aspect of leadership, which is about intentionally making disciples.  When we let go by passing the baton to new leaders, we move from being “doers” to “makers of disciples.”  Passing the baton is a sign of a healthy organization that seeks a higher purpose than merely individual celebrity.  Jesus’ temptations were perhaps about this when he had to remind himself that it was not all about him, and that he did not need to be the center of the universe to be God’s beloved.  He demonstrates this notion of passing the baton further from the cross when he invites his beloved disciple to take over caring for his mother and vice versa. Jesus models for us the mindfulness with which to empower the gathered community to help it thrive with and after us.  Interestingly, when we hand off one baton, another one usually appears in our hand.

Jesus’ Easter appearances are pregnant with the message of empowerment to his female and male followers to live into this new way of being a resurrection people.  He breathes the gift of Holy Spirit to empower the disciples before he “takes off,” so to speak.  If the risen Christ hadn’t passed the baton and if the empowerment of the Holy Spirit had not occurred, all we would be left with is a codependent relationship with some version of a domesticated Jesus whom we can manipulate and make in our own image.

Our culture normalizes narcissism and often gives us a justified sense of entitlement to remain there.  As your bishop, if I am not intentional, this could lead to me holding on to responsibilities beyond their time.  Almost every Sunday, I remind myself as I remind you, that the ministry of the Episcopate is to empower the Baptized.  Through the laying on of hands I invoke the gift of Holy Spirit on those who are confirmed, received and reaffirmed.  I do this ritually as your bishop with your prayers so that you may do the same spiritually with one another.  At the root of this letting go or passing on, is the desire to embrace the priority to responsibly empower others.  This is Jesus’ mandate to us that we make new disciples for Christ.  Our baptismal covenant beckons us to create a culture of empowering others with the responsibility of bearing the Gospel, which includes passing the baton.  FX: Eklan’s “gossip-bearer” story; I have his permission to share it with you.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead points to our core identity as Church: we are essentially Easter people amidst life’s disasters, foibles and joys.  The power of resurrection gives us reason to stay away from despair, from fainting, from complacency, and from weariness as a way of life.  In our creation narrative we are reminded of our original energy in that we are essentially “very good.”  At the beginning of Lent, we were reminded that we are dust!  The pendulum of life seems to have the capacity to swing from dust to very good and from worthless to beloved.  As moral agents, we have the capacity to consistently acknowledge who we are, and who we are going to be.  We call this recreation.  Becoming a Church that increasingly exudes Easter values (like generous hospitality, thoughtful engagement, and passionate spirituality) is crucial to our formation as re-created saints.  We are the ones we have been waiting for.

During one of my visits, I was shocked to hear an Episcopalian say, “we (our congregation) will not grow…” and gave reasons for it.  She is right, and unfortunately may not realize that she is fulfilling her own prophecy.  She could eventually say, “I told you so.”  When we collectively wait for the next shoe to drop, it will!  I say this not out of sappy notions of positive thinking.  I say it out of an understanding that the Gospel message connects with people despite demographic, economic and other forms of decline because a baptized community showed up believing in its transformative power.  This is our destiny as long as we choose to live into it.

One interpretation of destiny is that it is the actuation of what is already an ontological or real truth, but only happens in relational dance with moral agency.  Agency is about stepping up to do what is necessary.  There is causal determinism in the fact that we are God’s beloved made out of dust.  While we will all return to dust, we have the choice not to make this life all about dust.  God endows us with the energy, our original energy, which affirms us as “very good” so that we may live into it.  The Church has made its collective preferential option to become who we already are in God’s sight: good, beloved, and blessed; all of us, not just some!  Perhaps this is one of the reasons the final act in our worship is the Blessing, an aspiring proclamation of our identity as a body of hope!  We bless because we choose our destiny to be God’s beloved saints, an Easter people rising from dust!  Of course, our Deacons then tell us to go out and live into it!

Tomorrow, we will gather for our liturgy with our guest preacher Ms. Abagail Nelson, Senior Vice President of Episcopal Relief and Development.  We are privileged to have a young lay leader in our church preach at our convention Eucharist this year.  In past conventions, some of our young saints have started our Eucharist with the ritual hanging of the Diocesan quilt.  This year they will not hang the quilt.  They will be the quilt, our living breathing Diocesan tapestry, joining us as the ones who are ready to believe and take the baton of mission and ministry with and from us.  They will need our blessing as they take this beloved Church we cherish to places they discern we ought to go with God in the next decade.  Are you ready to bless them?  We are the ones we have been waiting for!

This Gospel we have received offers a transforming narrative.  I remember standing at the wall dividing Arizona and Mexico earlier this autumn prior to the meeting of the House of Bishops, along with the Presiding Bishop, a few other bishops and their families.  We were reflecting on our forebears and their experience as new settlers.  I was struck by how much ambiguity there is in how we remembered our forebears but also by how clear we were about where we were going.  The baptismal covenant reminds me of my role in respecting the dignity of every human being.  It is the baptismal narrative that transforms me, not my biological familial narrative.  I realized that my baptismal identity is my preferred identity.  Tomorrow, we will have an opportunity to share some table conversation.  I invite you to come prepared to share your story with another saint for about five minutes as to how you are being transformed by the Baptismal covenant.  You could also draw a symbol that visually describes your journey as an offering of thanks for the Eucharist.  We are the ones we have been waiting for!

Our journey through this current season of a Lent-like recession, through the cross and the empty tomb all remind us to refresh our memory, realign our priorities, and prepare to appropriate and proclaim the gift of resurrection.  We are agents of transformation with the capacity to determine our destiny by the grace of God.  As leaders in this beloved church, may we have the grace to dance with a healthy balance between our humility and transcendence, our ascribed identity and preferred identity, our ecclesiastical nobility and evangelistic vulnerability!  The Lord of the dance did.  We are the ones we have been waiting for!

Beloved, we live in exciting, scary and challenging times.  We have local challenges in congregations striving to stay alive and relevant in our urban, suburban and rural contexts.  We have global challenges in Haiti, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, India, and more.  We have a savior who redeems us, and Holy Spirit who companions us.  We have trustworthy servant leaders to guide us.  We have friends of other faiths and persuasions who journey with us.  We have bread and wine to sustain us.  Gifts of music and sacred spaces to spur us on….  God’s word to inspire us…..  Good friends to comfort us…..  Good humor to delight us….  We have a wounded world to heal in front of us.  We are sinners and saints…. the body of Christ….  God’s beloved….We are the ones we have been waiting for!


[1] Interestingly, the Church of South India, where I was ordained as priest, was also born on the same day in 1947.

19th Sunday after Pentecost, October 3, 2010

Dear saints,

Greetings in the name of hope on the eve of the feast of St. Francis of Assisi!  Several of you had prayerfully agreed to be embodiments of hope in the Southern Tier to plan for a mission surge around the potato harvest.  I am sorry to hear that it had to be cancelled at the last minute due the recent deluge in the Howard area.  I am sure this was a disappointment to many of you.  Even though you were not able to harvest Potatoes, I invite you to continue to keep these saints in your prayers since the silent storm of hunger and the pernicious clasp of poverty continue to assault both body and spirit of these our neighbors.  I would like to thank Dean Tom Gramley, Presiding Youth Missioner Rev. Deborah Brown, Mr. Bill Rhomer, The Rev. Canon Julie Cicora, and all others who helped plant the seeds toward the harvesting mission.  I invite you to encourage them from becoming discouraged.

May the spirit of Francis continue to inspire us to plan and pursue gracious actions that extend our spiritual practices to bless our neighbors as God’s beloved!  It is always inspiring, but especially during these times of great need, to see a small group of people of faith who willingly proclaim from a place of faith and not from a place of fear.

Your fellow servant in Christ,

Prince

VIII Bishop in Rochester, NY

September 9, 2010

Dear saints,

Welcome back to a new program year in church and most of society!  Let me wish you God’s Blessings as you reunite with old friends, perhaps miss friends who have moved on to other places or to God’s full embrace, and make refreshing new beginnings possible.  Let me also share with you a sliver of my perspective on our fear-torn world, reflections on the church in India, and also about how we got to bless the larger church most recently by sending another Bishop from our diocese.

Hope your time away this summer afforded you some time for rest.  As you get back into the swing of things you may be aware of the continuing consequences of the economic downturn.  You are also aware of the fear mongering by leaders who misuse their pulpits to further polarize this human family with threats for instance of burning sacred writ.  How do we keep our composure during these anxious times?  As followers of Jesus, I invite you to consider practicing generous hospitality especially at such a time as this.  Consider inviting guests you have not had the privilege of inviting to your home.  The less they are like you the better.  If getting them to come home is not practical, how about taking someone out for lunch?  The point, I think, is that we could use less rhetoric and more investment in relational narrative to survive this climate of fear and scarcity.

I had the privilege of travelling to India with Roja, Ned and Eklan to spend a substantial amount of time visiting family and friends.  I also had the opportunity to preach/greet in a few contexts to do my part in the bridge-building we have covenanted to do as Christians.  At the Diocese of Madras, where I was ordained a priest, the Bishop reminded the gathered in the Cathedral that the missional cycle has come full circle because the church that was once the receiving church is now also the sending church!  It was humbling to note that he was referring to the symbolism of your calling me to be your bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester to make this point.  The Church in India is alive, well and growing in leaps and bounds.  I was struck by church attendance!  The take away for me was that the church in India has figured out what it means to know the gospel story (biblical literacy) and how to make disciples (leaders who passionately share the gospel as they experience it).

Last week some of us joined our Presiding Bishop and the saints of Alaska in ordaining and consecrating our own Mark Lattime as the eighth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska.  It was a precious celebration of the varied gifts of the faithful in Alaska who warmly and transparently embraced Lisa, Allison, David, Jack and Mark with grace and

goodness!  Bishop Jack McKelvey, who is currently the Interim President of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, was the preacher.  As a Diocese, we presented Bishop Mark with some of the vestments he will use in his Episcopate.  I want to thank those who contributed towards this gift.  What a privilege to cloth this holy man as he proclaims the Gospel and carries the light of Christ to further illuminate the Northern lights.  Please continue to undergird the Lattime family with your prayers as they make this transition over the next year.  Let us also uphold the saints of St. Michael’s as they grieve this transition, regroup, re-vision their identity, and discern who they will call as their new rector.  We are grateful to the Rev. Canon Al Keeney for stepping in as their Interim Priest during this crucial time of transition.

This summer, we bid farewell to Kay Burrill, beloved wife of Bishop Bill Burrill, who died after a valiant and grace-filled struggle with cancer.  Recently, Janet Sisson, wife of David Sisson, our Diocesan Archivist, passed onto God’s full embrace after her grace-filled struggle with cancer.  We remember these and other loved ones who have gone ahead of us with gratitude for their witness to the Gospel, but miss them dearly.

Friends, this is a new day and a new opportunity to refresh our memory of who we are.  We are God’s beloved.  As you enter this new program year of the Church, I remind you to bathe in the beloved depth of your identity as God’s own, and commit yourself to generous hospitality, passionate spirituality, and creative/engaged mission.  We are a people of good news.  Let us proclaim it with gentleness and diligence, and invite new disciples into our fellowship.  My office and I stand ready to journey with you as you engage this wondrous task with renewed intention.

Your fellow servant in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh, Ph.D.

VIII Bishop in Rochester

http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79425_121396_ENG_HTM.htm

Alleluia!  The Diocese of Rochester gets to bless the larger Church yet again! Our prayers and congratulations to the saints of the Episcopal Diocese of Alaska on electing their next Bishop.  Blessings to the saints of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester and particularly the saints of the St. Michael’s parish in Genesseo for helping form the Bishop-elect.  Let us continue to embrace the Lattime household with our prayers.  Thanks be to God, Alleluia!  Alleluia!!

Dear saints,

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead points to our core identity as Church: we are essentially Easter people amidst life’s foibles and disasters.

The power of resurrection gives us reason to stay away from despair, from fainting and from weariness as a way of life.  In our creation narrative we are told that after creating us God reflected, “Very good!”  Recently, we were also reminded that we are dust!  The pendulum of life seems to have the capacity to swing from dust to very good and from worthless to beloved.  As moral agents, we have the capacity to consistently determine who we are going to be.  This process may be described as recreation.  Our environment/culture plays an important role in feeding our re-creation.  Becoming a Church that increasingly exudes Easter values (like radical hospitality, creative mission, and passionate spirituality) is crucial to our formation as re-created saints.

On any given day, we have the opportunity to embrace either pole for our original energy: our originergy!  On the one hand, we could choose a negative fatalism by remembering we are dust and internalize it to settle for mediocrity, despair and even forms of violence.  When we do, we invariably extend these attitudes and behaviors to those around us often normalizing a culture of pessimism where the proverbial shoe is bound to drop!  On the other hand, we could choose a positive fatalism by remembering we are God’s beloved; an Easter people with the capacity to rise from the dust of mediocrity, violence and despair around us.   One ingredient that stands out in churches that are vibrant is their choice of a positive fatalism.  Both choices infect the culture.  I use “fatalism” because agency is at play in this dance of life.  We are agents of our destiny with the choice to align ourselves with the arc of the universe as to where we want to end up.

Recently, I was shocked to hear an Episcopalian say, “we (our congregation) will not grow…” and gave reasons for it.  She is right, and unfortunately she is fulfilling her prophecy.  She could eventually say, “I told you so.”  I say this not out of sappy notions of negative or positive thinking.  An interpretation of fatalism is about actuating what is already an ontological truth: that we are God’s beloved made out of the dust to which we all return.  We are endowed with the energy (our originergy) to determine where we want to end up.  The Church has made its preferential option.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons the final act in our worship is the Blessing!  We bless because we choose our destiny to be God’s beloved saints, an Easter people!

Our journey through Lent, to the cross and the empty tomb all remind us to refresh our memory, realign our priorities, and prepare to appropriate the gift of resurrection.  Our brokenness is a part of our existence, but it does not need to be our prescription unless we choose it.  We are agents of transformation with the capacity to determine our destiny.  We have the grace to dance with a healthy balance between our humility and our transcendence.  The Lord of the dance did!

Let us actuate a Blessed Easter!

The Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh

Eighth Bishop, The Episcopal Diocese of Rochester

…they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  Isaiah 40:31

Dear saints,

At the summer Olympics the US track relay teams, both men and women, seemed to be plagued by a simple but serious problem, dropping the baton. 

Obviously, letting go at the right time is not easy and requires a great deal of practice.  As I watched this in slow motion several times, I remember wondering if it was perhaps a metaphor for our cultural proclivity for individual celebrity that often forgets how to function as a body.  Lent is countercultural in that it reminds us that we can be intentional about letting go by empowering others to run with the baton.  Lent in many ways is a season when many of us exercise some degree of letting go of things we value so as to enable an inward journey into things of ultimate significance.  Practicing some form of symbolic or actual “letting go” is a good way to prepare for our ultimate journey into God’s presence when we literally reach the last frontier to let go of all things material.  Lent may well be a practice run for our eternal journey into God. 

Another way to look at it is to consider this practice of “letting go” during Lent as a metaphor for an important aspect of leadership, which is about intentionally letting go by passing the baton to new leaders.  Passing the baton is an important sign of a healthy organization that seeks a higher purpose than merely individual celebrity.  Jesus’ third temptation was perhaps about this when he had to remind himself that it was not all about him, and that he did not need to be the center of the universe to be God’s beloved.  Our culture normalizes narcissism and often gives us a justified sense of entitlement.  In the Church, this could lead to us holding on to responsibilities beyond their time and perhaps even beyond our prime.  Of course, at the root of this holding on is the absence of a priority to responsibly empower others, which is the mandate to make disciples.  Our baptismal commission is to empower others with the responsibility of bearing the Gospel: passing the baton. 

As we engage in passing the baton and allow new leadership to emerge for the larger good of the Church, we also need to be mindful of the impact of our individual attitudes on the potential vitality of the church community.  ‘Passing on’ negative assumptions about our possibilities would constrict our viability as a spiritual community.  We say, “Have a Holy Lent” to remind each other that we care for one another as a ‘community of the face’ (Emmanuel Levinas) in keeping with our baptismal commitment to gentle accountability.  We do this while remembering our origins with some degree of ambiguity.  In the creation narrative, we are told that our creation caused God to be pleased enough to say, “Very good!”  We are also reminded that we are dust!  The pendulum oscillates from dust to very good and from worthless to beloved.

On any given day, we have the opportunity to embrace either pole for our original energy.  On the one hand, we could choose a negative fatalism by remembering we are dust and internalize it to settle for mediocrity, and despair.  In turn, we could extend these attitudes and behaviors to those around us, normalizing a lifestyle and practice of pessimism where the proverbial shoe is bound to drop!  On the other hand, we could choose a positive fatalism by remembering we are God’s beloved with the capacity to rise from the dust of mediocrity and despair around us.  We could extend this to those around us, as well.  The one ingredient that stands out in churches that are vibrant with growth is their choice of a positive fatalism. 

Recently, I was shocked to hear an Episcopalian say about her congregation, “we will not grow because…” and went on to give  some reason for it.  She is right, and she will fulfill her prophecy.  She could very well say, “I told you so” eventually.  I use the word fatalism because agency is at play in this dance of life.  We are agents of destiny and we have the choice to align ourselves with where we want to end up.  This interpretation of fatalism is about actuating what is already an ontological truth: that we are God’s beloved made out of the dust to which we all return!  We are endowed with the energy or power to determine where we want to end up.  Perhaps this is why one of the final acts in our worship is the Blessing!  We bless because we choose our destiny to be God’s beloved saints in community. 

We engage our journey in faith during this season of Lent to get back on track, to refresh our memory, to realign our priorities, and prepare to appropriate the gift of resurrection.  Our brokenness is a part of our existence, but it does not need to be our prescription unless as agents of change we choose to go down that road.  We are agents of transformation who have the capacity to determine our own destiny.  May we have the grace to dance with a healthy balance between our humility and our transcendence.  The Lord of the dance did!

Your fellow servant in Christ,

Prince

Dear saints, Greetings! During this season when we are reminded of nature’s wintry rhythm we were also shaken by nature’s fierce adjustments that caused the recent earthquake in Haiti.

          Simultaneously, we have also been reminded of God’s presence manifest in gentle and spectacular ways during this season of Epiphany. Epiphany reminds us that the gospel of Jesus Christ is universal in its appeal. It causes us to look above and beyond the crèche into the night sky to see and sense some mystical guidance toward the unknown. Looking up has always been a good spiritual exercise for everybody. The Magi remind us of all the wise and simple ones in history who have sought and found new expressions of healing and harmony that Jesus embodies for a broken world.

          We cry and stand in solidarity with our beloved who have lost life, family, and in most cases everything they considered home and security in Haiti. We also pray with great thanksgiving for the enormous generosity of human and other resources that have flooded the poorest country in the western hemisphere with signs of hope. Like many of you, I have a few questions clamoring for prophetic attention if not answers.

          I have a great deal of difficulty understanding how we get into these holy spheres of enormous compassion during such catastrophic calamities and then forget about the poor or settle for handout projects? Why have we found ways to acquiesce and not be outraged by systemic poverty that consistently reduces people to dispensable numbers and normalizes inhumane lifestyles? Why is there such a discrepancy between the promising potential of the Millennium Development Goals and our commitment to fulfill them? Why do we still have to be bombarded by fatalistic images of God punishing those who live differently from us while refusing to acknowledge God who calls us to be good stewards who take responsibility for our neighbor and all creation? And finally, why, at least in the last decade, is it primarily the poor who bear the brunt of natural calamities even if natural calamity is an equal opportunity offender?

          No simple answer for any of these, I am sure. Through our lament, our guilt, our qualified skepticism, we pray, we work, we support, we hug our loved ones, we reflect and we hopefully take this opportunity to realign our priorities, because life offers us an opportunity for us to be a blessing, and is not a blessing in itself. Thanks again for your generous spirit.

          Your fellow servant in Christ,

          Prince

          Bishop of Rochester, NY

Recently, I landed in Chennai, formerly Madras, in south India on an unanticipated and brief—literally three-day—pilgrimage.

My cousin, his wife and six-year-old son died in a tragic house fire accident caused by cooking gas in their new house in Bangalore.  Tragic events like this happen all the time in our world, but when they happen close to us they take on a whole new sense of reality and significance.  Ours is quite a close knit family with all its human foibles, and we realized in this terrible loss how important we were to each other.  I made this quick pilgrimage primarily to be with my family, to hold them and remind myself as I remind them that this is not a punitive act of God—a reified understanding of blessing and punishment is fundamental to the ferment of theology in that part of the world, not unlike ours.  I also believe this event punctuates the fact that life is a fragile gift, and that we are the Lord’s, whether we live or die.

I also made the trip to grieve the loss of a cousin who was close to me, whom I admired a good deal.  Winnie was like Nathaniel in the New Testament, a person in whom there was no guile; never wished harm on any one.  He was full of joy and wonder about life.  He had a few nicknames.  Apart from Winnie, which rhymes with his Dad’s (Sunny) his other nickname was earned, given by his cousins.  We called him CHEERS!  He was always the one to raise the glasses right from our childhood days whether it was sharing water, soda, or later on as adults, Kingfisher beer!  The gift of joy and wonder were embodied in this humorous and joyful cousin who always led with the optimistic belief of goodness in everyone he encountered.  “Innocent as a dove” comes to mind, yet in him there was no stifling piety.  He was not a Saint, but came very close in my book.

Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why do the good die young?  Many such questions percolate in our “God-fearing” family, which has had a deep faith tradition from the time of our ancestors who chose to follow Christ decisively and intentionally.  Many such questions will continue to wax and wane as we emerge from this cloud of unknowing.  As for me, Winnie has reminded us that it does not matter how long we live but how well we live.  May he, his beloved wife Sherin, and young son Renith, rest in peace and rise in glory! 

I am grateful for all the support and comfort we have received from those who care and believe from far and near.  I am truly grateful to Roja, Ned, Eklan and my Diocesan family, in Rochester, New York, for making several accommodations to empower me to make this pilgrimage of presence possible.  On behalf of our family, I wish to thank all who helped in some compassionate way during this tragic event and all, including my Episcopal family world-wide, who have sustained us in prayer.  Please continue to keep Winnie’s parents Joseph and Selvi Dharma Singh, Sherin’s parents Sukumar and Shiela Arnold, Sherin’s sister Neetu, both larger families, and especially Daphne, Winnie’s sister, who sat by her beloved brother’s bedside as he  moved into God’s full embrace.  Cedrey, Sherin, and Renith have gone ahead of us into God’s full presence.  They have joined those who went before them.  Here’s to a good life, a loving wife and mother, a devoted husband and father and a gentle child, who despite their violent deaths celebrate their first Christmas with the heavenly host: Cheers!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 23 other followers

June 2017
M T W T F S S
« Mar    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930